Monday 18 December 2017

'I've always turned up. I've tried my best'

Emotional Keane will miss the 'comfort blanket' of Irish involvement

Robbie Keane and Shane Long on the bench yesterday during Ireland training in Abbotstown
Robbie Keane and Shane Long on the bench yesterday during Ireland training in Abbotstown

It was Ireland's first day back in camp, but this was not business as usual.

The end of Robbie Keane's extraordinary international career is one game away. There's nothing ordinary about that.

When the skipper packed his bags in Los Angeles over the weekend, the reality of his big decision set in.

He'd told Martin O'Neill and his team-mates in France that he would be ending his national service, and the opportunity to come back for tomorrow's date with Oman was a bonus.

Still, it was only when he readied his gear to catch a flight that the finality of the week really hit home.

Keane said himself that he has always been guarded with the press - the openness in America helped him to alter that approach somewhat - but the shutters weren't visible yesterday.

He even said he will miss the media, which offered the firmest evidence that his emotions might be getting the better of him.


That line was delivered with a knowing smile and a few playful quips for his oldest sparring partners, yet it's clear that he will find it hard to stay composed around the dressing-room and on the pitch during his farewell night.

More than half his life has been spent in the national team environment. The 'comfort blanket' was there from his baby steps in football.

Mick McCarthy was on his mind when the deed was done.

"He was the first person I called, the only person I called, just to thank him," he explained. "He gave me the chance. I was a 17-year-old kid. You don't see that anymore. Most people make their debuts at 22, 23. He set the ball rolling. I will always be very, very grateful."

In McCarthy, he found a manager who understood him. In the course of his retirement press conference, discussion temporarily veered towards his bosses in the club game who didn't always understand Keane's passion for life in the green jersey.

He acknowledged that it might have cost him along the way. He veered close to old wounds by speaking of players who pulled out of international matches with minor injuries; some members of the current squad came under fire in 2011 when Giovanni Trapattoni expressed dissatisfaction with their reasoning.

And, of course, there's the small matter of his namesake and Ireland's current assistant manager who was always under pressure from on high at Manchester United when he was carrying a knock.

The younger Keane admitted that he worked with managers who wanted him to stay behind when he was struggling. They always received the same answer.

"I can never understand why people pull out of games. Still, to this day I can't get my head around that," he said.

"Today we are in strong place with the national team, everyone wants to turn up - that wasn't always the case over the years.

"One thing about me is that I've always turned up, I've always tried my best, even with injuries, getting injections before games. That's just a love for Ireland and love for my country.

"I wouldn't mention any names," he added, when confirming that he did have chats with his full-time employers about his determination.

"When you have a big game on Saturday for Tottenham or whatever, after a game on Wednesday (for Ireland) managers wanted you fresh for the weekend.

"For me it was always a no. Maybe managers left me out because of that and maybe other players who were fresher got picked ahead of me. It never mattered for me."

This was a day for accentuating the positive. Keane was unwilling to go down the road of discussing regrets.

One League Cup medal from his stint in England is a modest return for a player of his abilities. But he is happy that his Irish exploits will shape his legacy; he wouldn't swap them for any club accolade, and it's easy to believe him.

He touched on the challenge of adapting to a peripheral role at the Euros but said that he grew to enjoy the responsibility. And the simple fact that it allowed his eldest son, Robert, the opportunity to see him on stage made the extra two years worth it.

His youngest, Hudson, will accompany him onto the pitch tomorrow. Keane left America two hours after his birth to go and play for his country so the life story will always be intertwined with his father's exploits.

The record of 67 goals will stand for some time. Keane acknowledged that the changing climate in England is making it hard for his fellow countrymen to get a break in any club side, never mind breaking into the Irish fold.

Despite the highs of the World Cup in 2002 and the magic late equaliser against Germany, his fondest memory is still his first Irish goal, against Malta, just 18 months after he was kicking the ball around the streets with his pals in Tallaght.

The last hurrah could end up being a rival in his affections. Keane sat out training with a minor knock but nothing will stop him from playing. And the determination to add to his haul will ensure that he remains focused on the game despite the pomp and ceremony that will accompany the evening.

"There's no way I'm going into this game half-hearted," he asserted. "I've been asked by a lot of people would I do a testimonial for charity and stuff like that, and I could have done that.

"But the fact is, to play a proper game (is better), because I think that is all I have done in my life, play a proper game and try to be as competitive as much as I can and have that instinct to score goals, and Wednesday will be the exact same

"Just because it's my last game, I'm not going to go into it thinking. . . I'll enjoy the moment, don't get me wrong . . . as soon as that whistle goes, I'll want to win the game."

He is informed that he is one short of Gerd Muller in the all-time records and you immediately know that he didn't need to be told.

"I'm always chasing the next one," he said. "That will never change for me."

It'll be different when he's gone.

Irish Independent

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